Quick Shifts: Why can't Auston Matthews draw more penalties?

John Tortorella gives his thoughts on Trevor Zegras' pass from behind the net to set Sonny Milano up for a 'Michigan' style goal. COURTESY: ESPN

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Apologies: This blog was only published due to human error.

1. Just as the Toronto Maple Leafs are sticking up for one another on the ice, coach Sheldon Keefe is sticking up for his superstar off it.

Seldom one to rip the refs, Keefe did so in a passive-aggressive (i.e., fine-dodging) way this week, following the Pierre-Luc Dubois ragdoll job of Auston Matthews. Both centres were given roughing minors for this interaction Sunday:

Keefe was asked if NHL stars absorb too much unpenalized abuse.

“If I'm not mistaken, I don't think Auston has drawn a penalty the entire season. Which is strange [considering] how much he has the puck and how involved he is. So those kind of things, I think, are worth looking at if you're involved with that,” Keefe said.

(According NaturalStatTrick.com, Matthews has drawn one penalty at 5-on-5. But the point stands.)

The Leafs are a top possession team, yet they only rank 24th overall in penalties drawn (3.33 per 60 minutes).

What gives?

“Not just with Auston but some of our other guys. I thought a lot about this because in my time here we've gone through a lot of stretches where it's been difficult to draw penalties. The thing that I'm drawn to a lot — and I think it happens with a lot of the elite players in the league — I think they're so good that they skate through a lot of crap,” Keefe suggests.

“There’s a lot of players, you get a stick on them, or you get a body on them, they fall off a stride and they lose the puck, or they fall down. There's a lot of our players, and Auston certainly is one, that they just skate right through all that stuff.

“They just speed through a lot of trouble, a lot of traffic, and there's a lot of it that gets in their way. I think the elite players, those things disrupt them less, so it doesn't get the attention of the officials as much as it would others that just don't have the ability to sustain their play through that.

“Mitch Marner, even though he’s not as big, is very similar because he skates through a lot of that. John Tavares is just a bull; he skates through it. Willie [Nylander] same kinda thing.”

I do believe the coach was simply giving a thoughtful response to a fair question, but calling public attention isn’t the worst strategy.

Much was made about the lack of whistles thrown Connor McDavid’s way last season.

McDavid now ranks second leaguewide (to Joel Eriksson Ek) is penalties drawn (17), per NaturalStatTrick.

2. Bruce, there he is.

Cinephiles know Bruce Boudreau not as the undefeated head coach of the Vancouver Canucks but as a rival of the Charlestown Chiefs in the 1997 classic Slap Shot (No. 7 for the Hyannisport Presidents).

“Probably the biggest mistake hockeywise that I made,” Boudreau said of his time spent filming with Paul Newman.

During a keynote discussion at last month’s PrimeTime Sports Management Conference, Boudreau broke down how his contribution to Slap Shot came to be.

Boudreau was playing for the Minnesota Fighting Saints in 1975-76, but the team folded 30 games in. At that point, the stud junior scorer and first player selected in dispersal draft could’ve joined the Maple Leafs farm team in Oklahoma City. That way he’d prove his worth and have a leg up on the other Leafs prospects when the next training camp rolled around.

But Boudreau’s agent didn’t like that idea.

“Know what? They’re making a movie in Johnstown. Why don’t you go down there [sign with the NAHL’s Jets] and we’ll sign you with the Leafs next summer?” Boudreau’s agent said.

Boudreau puts on a dumb-guy voice to replay his response: “OK, whatever you say, agent.”

The Chiefs were accurately based on the Jets, Boudreau asserts. The Hanson brothers were based off Jeff and Steve Carlson, who’d fight every game, then go home and play cars in their spare time.

“That was our team, man. It was crazy,” Boudreau said. “We beat up everybody. That’s how we ended up winning. It was a crazy time. It was great making the movie.”

Boudreau knew the camera was positioned around the net during his fake team’s cameo, so he kept circling the crease to ensure he’d make the cut. Then he got invited to watch the dailies and sat behind “Newsy,” which was an experience he’ll never forget.

Paul Newman revealed to Boudreau that he made 1972’s The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean only for the money. “But this movie is going to be iconic. It’s going to be great, and everybody’s going to love it,” Newman predicted.

“Forty-five years later, we’re still talking about it,” Boudreau says. “It was fun, but a huge mistake careerwise.”

3. Fun fact: After a piling up 165 points in 69 games(!) for the 1975 Toronto Marlboros, Boudreau broke the record for most goals in a Memorial Cup game, with five. Forty-six years later, the record holds.

“Yeah, and I’m the only player in history to be minus-1 after scoring five goals,” Boudreau quips.

(All five of Boudreau’s goals came on the power-play. He was on the ice for one against 5-on-5.)

4. Bruce is such a beauty, we’ll give him the floor for one more.

On Boudreau’s first day taking over the Washington Capitals midstream, then GM George McPhee told him, simply: “It’s your team. Coach it how you want.”

When he walked in the room to run his first meeting with the players, Boudreau was prepared to deliver a boilerplate introduction, keep all their systems intact and knock rock the boat too hard out of the gate.

“And I started looking around the room and thought, ‘Holy eff, that’s Alex Ovechkin!’ I nearly crapped my pants. I changed everything up right there. Everything I was going to say — to hell with it. If I only have a couple weeks as an interim coach and George said to do it my way, I will. I changed all their systems right there. Luckily with the support of the guys who were on the team, it was an easy transition,” Boudreau recalls.

“Alex was a treat. Except when you’re a coach, you like players to backcheck. And he wasn’t too fond of it. He scored 65 goals [in 2007-08, with rookie coach Boudreau on the bench]. My philosophy has always been: If the good is a lot better than the bad, you don’t worry about the bad because the good will hold you there. It’s when players are not checking or doing anything without the puck and not doing much offensively, then it becomes a problem. But he was so good with the puck. I’ve never seen to this day… his shot is still amazing. He’s still built: 6-foot-2½, 230 pounds. He hasn’t changed. He loved hockey. He wanted to come watch video every day.”

Boudreau would sometimes use Ovechkin’s defensive shortcomings in video sessions as examples of what not to do.

“Because I couldn’t let the best player in the world not get criticized,” he reasons. “But I’d always tell him in advance, though. I’d say, ‘Alex, you’re the star of the video today. Bear with me. And don’t go tell management, or I’m gone.’ ”

When Boudreau took over that first season, Washington was dead last in November. The Caps rallied to win their division, and Boudreau claimed the Jack Adams with just 61 NHL games on his coaching résumé.

Bonus Bruce: Boudreau lived next door to referee Paul Devorski in Hershey. So when Devorski called a series-deciding penalty on the Capitals in Game 7 of the Caps’ 2008 playoff round against Philadelphia, Boudreau — a 53-year-old man at the time — went home and TP’d the ref’s house. Seriously.

Boudreau later apologized.

5. Some key dates on the NHL calendar are approaching.

Players recalled from the minors after 5 p.m. ET Saturday may be reassigned to the minor up until Dec. 23.

The final day to freely sign UFAs who started the season in Europe is Dec. 15. Any later, and they’ll need to first clear waivers.

The holiday roster freeze begins at 11:59 p.m. local time on Dec. 19 and stretches until Dec. 28.

6. Phone calls to players informing them they’ve been traded last about as long as phone calls from the guy offering me airduct cleaning.

“People think these are long conversations. I remember when [Nazem] Kadri got traded he sort of complained that Kyle [Dubas] didn’t speak to him long enough. It’s like, these are short conversations always,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said at the PTSMC.

Shanahan flashed back to his own playing days, when St. Louis Blues coach Mike Keenan giving him a ring in the summer of 1995 to inform him that he’d been shipped off to Hartford for Chris Pronger.

“We thank you very much for your time. We’ve traded you here. The general manager is going to call. Thank you very much. Good luck,” Keenan said.

Shanahan replied: “Thank you very much.”


“Then we hung up.”

7. Shanahan’s history as department of player safety chief didn’t help sway the gavel when it came to the Jason Spezza suspension.

Shanahan took the gig ten year ago, the first season enforcing Rule 48, the illegal check to the head. He recalls everyone — players, execs, coaches — congratulating him and wishing him luck before the 2011-12 season.

“I vividly remember Colin Campbell saying, ‘You know, that’s over when the first game is played, once you have to make your first decision.’”

Shanahan even received “a beautiful letter” from then Leaf GM Brian Burke wishing him the best in the new endeavour.

“Who was the first guy to call for my job three weeks later? This guy,” Shanahan said, pointing to Burke at the conference.
“It was a wakeup call that this is not going to be a pleasant job. It is a hard job. I think there is a time limit on how long you can do that job.”

Shanahan, who instituted the explanatory suspension video, did the job for three seasons. His successor, Stephane Quintal, held it for three as well. George Parros is now into his fifth season at the helm.

“I don’t know that we really affected a ton of players who were playing at that time [because] current players don’t really watch the videos,” Shanahan said. “But when you explain the decisions in the videos — what the player did wrong and why and what he could’ve done — you know who is watching? Twelve-year-olds, 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds.

“When that next level of players coming up had an opportunity to hit a guy from the side or cutting through the slot, they weren’t doing that. So, it didn’t happen overnight, but I do think the game has evolved. There will still be incidents. There always will. It’s hockey. But I do think there is a greater level of respect and education when it comes to headshots.”

8. Quote of the Week.

Martin St. Louis was asked on Real Kyper and Bourne if having Team Canada’s coach as his NHL coach should be giving Steven Stamkos an advantage toward making the Olympic squad:

Should be,” St. Louis replied.

9. Here's my “2018 or Bust” version of Team Canada: a starting lineup composed exclusively of great players who missed their one window to represent their home and native land on the Olympic stage. Just peaked at the wrong time.

Taylor Hall – Tyler Seguin – Claude Giroux

Mark Giordano – Brent Burns

Braden Holtby

10. When the Columbus Blue Jackets rolled through Toronto this week, their roster had a wholly different feel from their last visit to the city — during the 2020 playoff bubble.

No John Tortorella. No Pierre-Luc Dubois. No Nick Foligno. No Seth Jones. No David Savard. No Alexander Wenneberg. No Ryan Murray.

Decidedly different vibe around the group.

Quick – who is the Jackets’ leading goal scorer?

Ten points if you said new captain Boone Jenner, the only Columbus player in double digits (11).

A 30-goal man way back in 2015-16, Jenner potted a career-low eight last season. He’s enjoying a resurgence.

“Booner’s just so consistent. He's always been the same player, in my mind,” Maxi Domi says. “He is very hard to play against — that's the most valuable [trait] a player can have.

“On top of that, he's a heckuva leader. He's a great teammate. Obviously, he can score. When you’re in front of the net for that long… because there's a only handful of guys who can stand there and take the abuse that he takes and still find the puck when there’s 10 guys around him and put it in the net. That’s a skill. Obviously, he's worked on that his whole life. He's got a knack. So, it's great to see.”

11. Team Canada coach Jon Cooper always plans to multitask when his Lightning face off against clubs with Canadian Olympic hopefuls. And it always fails.

Turns out, you can’t run a bench and scout the opposition simultaneously.

The question was raised Thursday, before facing Canadian bubble candidates Morgan Rielly and John Tavares in Toronto.

“I go in every game thinking, yeah, there's players you want to evaluate. And I leave every single game thinking, all I've watched is our own team,” Cooper says.

“It's difficult when you're coaching because you're watching matchups, you're so in tune to the game, it's hard to pay attention to specific things are happening with other players. We always have the ability to watch the game back, and then you can watch a little differently. But to be honest, it's more difficult than I thought to evaluate players on the other team when you're coaching.”

12. A note of appreciation for Trevor Zegras for dreaming up the Assist of the Year (Decade? Century?).

“Not only is the talent there, which is phenomenal to see, but I think the belief and the competence to do it in a game — and at this level — it's not easy,” Tavares says. “The game is extremely competitive, really fast and can be very structured at times. So, to see someone that can just see outside the box and look at things differently and then have the skill-set to pull it off is remarkable.”

Hockey can be so by-the-book that moments of true ingenuity catch our eye like a double rainbow. The Zegas–Sonny Milano alley-oop feels like a breakthrough. Remember, no one had dared attempt the Michigan goal at the NHL level until Andrei Svechnikov blew our minds in 2019. Then he did it again. Then Filip Forsberg followed suit. And others were trying too.

Expressive sports like skateboarding are fueled by these types of revelations of what’s possible. A 720? A 1080? It only takes one athlete to pull it off and open our eyes to new colours. Others want to touch what, suddenly, they can now see.

It should come as zero surprise that kids are already out here trying to mimic Zegras:

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.